NewsLocal pulls back on local presence and trials roving reporters

News Limited’s NSW suburban newspaper division NewsLocal has closed more than half a dozen suburban newspaper offices across Sydney in the last 18 months.

The money-saving move comes at the same time that the company also experiments with roving reporters out in the community who do not work from a newsroom base.

In most instances the company has moved the affected storefront offices to sister suburban publications within the vicinity of the newspaper although almost all of these offices have been outside the geographical area covered by the title.

Since mid-2011, The Wentworth Courier, The Inner West Courier and The Southern Courier have all been moved to the company’s Holt Street headquarters in Surry Hills.

Meanwhile, The Blacktown Advocate has moved its storefront office to Castle Hill, The Hornsby Advocate to Epping and the Central Coast Advocate has moved offices in Tuggerah and West Gosford to a new office in Erina.

NewsLocal also closed the office of the Northside Courier in North Sydney when it closed the publication last year.

The union representing journalists, the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance, said it was aware of the closures but declined to comment due to ongoing negotiations over enterprise bargaining agreements.

News Limited said that while there have been office closures, and some associated redundancies, the changes had not adversely impacted its local newspaper coverage.

“Our community newspaper groups have implemented structural changes as part of the broader transformation of News Limited to meet the changing needs of our consumers and customers,” said a News Limited spokesman.

“This has involved the consolidation of some offices and moving some teams into better offices. These changes have not affected local reportage.”

Shortly before the closure of the storefront offices began the publisher began a trial of what it describes as ‘roving reporters’ who file from home or the road and are not based in any specific office.

News Limited said the trial of roving reporters is unrelated to the office closures and is designed to ensure suburban newspaper reporters are engaged with their community.

“The roving reporter trial, which sees journalists working in the heart of their communities – meeting readers in libraries, police stations, council chambers and so on – has been very successful with readers taking the opportunity to talk to reporters, in some instances queuing to meet them,” said a News Limited spokesman.

The recent changes have led to some redundancies, mainly among the NewsLocal sales staff, and come as News Limited negotiates with the MEAA to move all of its suburban newspaper staff to a common national employment agreement.

With negotiations ongoing, the union was reluctant to be drawn on the matter – however, its most recent bulletin to members detailed how News Limited has countered the union’s proposed three per cent pay increase with a proposal of 1.25 per cent.

The new employment agreement is in part driven by last year’s restructure of News Limited which saw the streamlining and pooling of resources along with the implementation of copy sharing under a “one city, one newsroom” policy.

This policy has seen News Limited metropolitan papers able to use copy from suburban newspapers but also led to the push for all company reporters to be put on the same pay scale.

Nic Christensen

This story first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.


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